When it comes to art and style, Michigan has been home to many revolutionary ideas and figures, though precious few have had the lasting impact on their craft as interior designer Ruth Adler Schnee. Before she created a body of textile patterns in the 1940s and 1950s that helped shape the look and feel of mid-century modernism, Adler Schnee studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Fittingly, Cranbrook is now offering a retrospective of her life and work. The special exhibit, Ruth Adler Schnee: Modern Designs for Living, is on display at the Cranbrook Art Museum through March 15, 2020.

Early Years

Ruth Adler was born into a Jewish family in Frankfort, Germany on May 13, 1923. Art quickly became an integral part of her life. Her mother studied calligraphy at the famous German art school known as Bauhaus. There, she was surrounded by many artistic friends. One of whom was Paul Klee, who reportedly provided young Ruth with some of her first training in the arts. Unfortunately, their beautiful artistic life gave way to the dark terror of the Nazi regime. The Adler home was destroyed during Kristallnacht, and the family was forced to flee to America.

The home may have been extinguished, but Ruth’s passion for creativity was not. The Adler family settled in Detroit and Ruth enrolled at Cass Technical High School, where, among other things, she studied fashion design. She continued her education Rhode Island School of Design. There she focused on interior architecture, before returning to Michigan. Ruth received a Master of Fine Arts in Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1946, making her one of the first women to ever receive that degree.

Seven Decades of Ruth Adler Schnee

Amazingly, at 96, Ruth is still in active practice. The exhibition explores her seven-decade career through vintage textiles, archival drawings, photography and videos. Attendees come away with a strong sense, not only of Ruth’s dramatic impact on modernism in postwar America, but of the subtle role artistic design plays in weaving the aesthetic tapestry of our everyday lives.

Of her time at Cranbrook Ruth Adler Schnee once said, “Little did I realize then that the training and thoughts first formed at Cranbrook would make my life so very difficult, but so rewarding. They set standards by which I judge my work. And, to the frequent dismay of my husband and children, they often become the system of rules governing conduct. But they also serve to develop success.”

The art museum is located on the Cranbrook campus at 39221 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48303. It is open Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm and General Admission is $10.

Author: Lisa Diggs

Lisa Diggs is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, avid traveler, and founder of The Catalyst Company, LLC, Michigan Positivity Project, and Buy Michigan Now.